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Nasal ciliary biopsy

Patient information A-Z

Why perform a ciliary biopsy?

This is a test performed to help to diagnose or exclude a condition called primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD). Primary ciliary dyskinesia is a rare genetically-inherited condition where the microscopic hair-like structures within the body (known as cilia) do not function normally.

Cilia vibrate within the airways and other organs in the body such as the middle ear. In the lungs they help to prevent infection by ‘sweeping’ mucus containing dust particles and bacteria up the windpipe to be swallowed and passed out of the body. In PCD, the cilia either do not function at all, or their movement is disordered and therefore ineffective.

Who is the test performed on?

The test is commonly performed on children who present with one or more of the following:

  • a history of chest and respiratory problems
  • constant runny nose
  • recurrent ear infections

It is worth remembering that these are all common childhood complaints, and are also the symptoms of many other conditions. PCD is rare, with an estimated occurrence of only one in 15,000 live births.

How is the test performed?

A small brush attached to a narrow wire is placed inside one nostril and is used to brush the inside of the nose to obtain a sample of the small hairs found here. It takes only a few seconds to do the ciliary biopsy. It is not a painful test but it may be uncomfortable.

PCD brush - a very thin, small wire brush
PCD brush

Your child will be referred to a specialist centre at either Leicester or the Royal Brompton. They will contact you directly to arrange an appointment.

Your child will have the biopsy done while they are awake, and they will need to be still for a few seconds, for the sample to be obtained satisfactorily. The results can take up to three months.

Reasons to cancel your appointment

A cold can temporarily damage the cilia in the nose, and mimic the condition being screened for, giving false positive results.

If your child has a cold, runny nose, or cough at the time of the appointment, please cancel and rebook.

If your child has had a cold anytime in the four weeks preceding your appointment, please cancel and rebook. This is because the cilia can take some time to recover from a cold.

We appreciate that during winter months this may result in cancelling more than one appointment.

We are smoke-free

Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.

Other formats

Help accessing this information in other formats is available. To find out more about the services we provide, please visit our patient information help page (see link below) or telephone 01223 256998.

Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151